A letter to the faithful from the Colorado bishops on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Archdiocese of Denver

The Colorado Bishops affirm that Catholics should consider how a vaccine was created and tested before receiving it.

In Letter to the Faithful on COVID-19 Vaccines (December 14, 2020), the Colorado bishops wrote:

“The bishops of Colorado affirm that the use of some COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable under certain circumstances. At the same time, we must remember that a good end cannot justify evil means. Vaccines need to be developed according to ethical criteria. Human cell lines that come from aborted fetuses should not be used in the design, development, production, or lab testing of vaccines. The development of vaccines and other medicines using aborted fetal cells is ethically unacceptable.”1

The Catholic Church recognizes the incredible potential of the COVID-19 vaccines to eliminate suffering and potentially lead to an end to the current health crisis. Already, there has been progress from the vaccines to bring about lower infection rates in Colorado and nationwide. The rapid development of effective vaccines for COVID-19 is an astounding medical accomplishment, and government leaders across the world should be working to ensure that every person who desires it, be vaccinated.

However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which recently received emergency approval from the FDA, used cell lines derived from an aborted fetus in its design, development, production, and testing and is, therefore, not a morally valid option if one has the ability to choose a vaccine. Given the availability of the more morally acceptable Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines in Colorado, Catholics should avoid the morally compromised Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccination (as noted in the December letter) in favor of Moderna or Pfizer.

Most Coloradans have a unique opportunity to choose morally acceptable options when electing to be vaccinated. On March 2, 2021, Governor Jared Polis established Colorado as a national leader in allowing people to choose which vaccine fits their conscience. In a press conference discussing vaccine distribution he said, “When [people are] signing up for an appointment, they will know what [vaccine] they would get at that [provider], and if it’s not the one they want, they can sign up at a different site at a different time to get the one they want.”2 Additionally, websites such as https://www.vaccinespotter.org/CO/ will also help individuals find morally acceptable vaccines nearest them.

While each individual should give careful consideration to the morality of different vaccines, the Colorado bishops affirm the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) statement that “being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”3 Each of us has the responsibility, whether we choose to be vaccinated or not, to take measures that promote the public health and care for our neighbors.

In some cases, individuals may be restricted in their access to morally acceptable vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. This could be because of location, health care coverage, or other reasons. In these rare cases, when an individual has no other option, it is morally acceptable to be vaccinated with more morally compromised vaccines. According to the the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,

“In this sense, when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated) it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”4

However, whenever possible, the Colorado Bishops encourage making a sincere effort to choose the morally acceptable options. By exploring every available option to receive a morally acceptable vaccine, an individual is engaging in clear opposition to the morally compromised vaccine, even if he or she ultimately finds that they have no other option.

Furthermore, if individuals have serious moral objections or health concerns about any vaccines, those concerns should be respected by society and government, and those individuals should not be forced into vaccination, contrary to their conscience. The government should never mandatorily impose the COVID- 19 vaccines on its citizens.

With the decrease in COVID-19 spread and an increasing vaccination rate, the end of the current pandemic is within sight. It is crucial, however, that our pursuit of public health is in accordance with our moral beliefs and commitment to respecting life at every stage of development.

As more vaccines become available for public consumption, the Charlotte Lozier Institute remains a useful resource to identify which vaccines are morally acceptable.5 We continue to encourage our community to reference that list.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo

Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan
Bishop of Colorado Springs

Most Reverend Jorge Rodriguez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver


  1. “A Letter to the Faithful from the Colorado Bishops on COVID-19 Vaccines.” Colorado Catholic Conference, www.cocatholicconference.org/a-letter-to-the-faithful-from-the-colorado-bishops-on-covid-19-vaccines/.
  2. KUSA.com, 2 Mar. 2021, www.9news.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/vaccine/colorado-covid-cases-vaccine-johnson-johnson-latest/73-72f1500f-236c-416e-9b9a-2ede89322722.
  3. USCCB, 2 Mar. 2021, www.usccb.org/news/2021/us-bishop-chairmen-doctrine-and-pro-life-address-use-johnson-johnson- covid-19-vaccine.
  4. Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Morality of Using Some Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines, press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/12/21/201221c.html.
  5. Charlotte Lozier Institute, lozierinstitute.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-covid-19-vaccine/.

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright